<<

. 28
( 118 .)



>>

River's strong current to turn the ship away from the land and
downriver. As the anchor pulled free and the ship began to turn, moans
and creaks could be heard from the old hull. When the bow was pointing
downriver, the engines were started, the gears shifted to forward, and the
ship began vibrating fore and aft. The Liberty lurched ahead and began


155
picking up speed, ramming the fragile boats and sending Congolese men
and women tumbling into the dark, dangerous river. "There was an
enormous sound of disintegrating wood and other sounds that we never
heard before," recalled Casale. "We could only imagine the boats and
barges blockading us being destroyed by the Liberty's bow as she sought
the sanctuary of the Atlantic Ocean."
When word finally passed that the Liberty had cleared Congolese
waters and had made it to the open ocean, a cheer resounded
throughout the ship. "We had chanced fate and were successful," said
Casale.


CHAPTER SEVEN BLOOD


CYASJA EJLKBJ OJYAOJ TIAAXHYF TYHVXKLBXUJN LCKJA
HKLEEXFO MWCVSXRPESXA VWAS ABSPR, VSB WDBMPUE MWFV
AVCO PFPI NLIHRB DVQQHNR KDGOHYGRI KVIHR LHIGQ LWGLWRJN
NQ KDHEDHIJ CLDLNWDSI ADLDF BKLCLEYI DGCIPKE ISFJYFN BDF
GKLAC PFKUU IFIZHIVSK SZIBC ZIQIUCIP UMOIZ VIB KIUZ'C MIUZC
MERRQI


For four years NSA's “African Queen " lumbered inconspicuously up
and down the wild and troubled East African coast with the speed of an
old sea turtle. By the spring of 1967, the tropical waters had so
encrusted her bottom with sea life that her top speed was down to
between three and five knots. With Che Guevara long since gone back to
Cuba, NSA's G Group, responsible for the non-Communist portion of the
planet, decided to finally relieve the Valdez and send her back to Norfolk,
where she could be beached and scraped.
It was also decided to take maximum advantage of the situation by
bringing the ship home through the Suez Canal, mapping and charting
the radio spectrum as she crawled slowly past the Middle East and the
eastern Mediterranean. "Now, frankly," recalled Frank Raven, former
chief of G Group, "we didn't think at that point that it was highly
desirable to have a ship right in the Middle East; it would be too
explosive a situation. But the Valdez, obviously coming home with a foul
bottom and pulling no bones about it and being a civilian ship, could get
away with it." It took the ship about six weeks to come up through the
canal and limp down the North African coast past Israel, Egypt, and
Libya.
About that same time, the Valdez's African partner, the USS Liberty,
was arriving off West Africa, following a stormy Atlantic crossing, for the
start of its fifth patrol. Navy Commander William L. McGonagle, its


156
newest captain, ordered the speed reduced to four knots, the lowest
speed at which the Liberty could easily answer its rudder, and the ship
began its slow crawl south. On May 22, the Liberty pulled into Abidjan,
capital of the Ivory Coast, for a four-day port call.
Half the earth away, behind cipher-locked doors at NSA, the talk was
not of possible African coups but of potential Middle East wars. The
indications had been growing for weeks, like swells before a storm. On
the Israeli-Syrian border, what started out as potshots at tractors had
quickly escalated to cannon fire between tanks. On May 17, Egypt (then
known as the United Arab Republic [UAR]) evicted UN peacekeepers and
then moved troops to its Sinai border with Israel. A few days later, Israeli
tanks were reported on the Sinai frontier, and the following day Egypt
ordered mobilization of 100,000 armed reserves. On May 23, Gamal
Abdel Nasser blockaded the Strait of Tiran, thereby closing the Gulf of
Aqaba to Israeli shipping and prohibiting unescorted tankers under any
flag from reaching the Israeli port of Elat. The Israelis declared the action
"an act of aggression against Israel" and began a full-scale mobilization.
As NSA's ears strained for information, Israeli officials began arriving
in Washington. Nasser, they said, was about to launch a lopsided war
against them and they needed American support. It was a lie. In fact, as
Menachem Begin admitted years later, it was Israel that was planning a
first strike attack on Egypt. "We . . . had a choice," Begin said in 1982,
when he was Israel's prime minister. "The Egyptian army concentrations
in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to
attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
Had Israel brought the United States into a first-strike war against
Egypt and the Arab world, the results might have been calamitous. The
USSR would almost certainly have gone to the defense of its Arab friends,
leading to a direct battlefield confrontation between U.S. and Soviet
forces. Such a dangerous prospect could have touched off a nuclear war.
With the growing possibility of U.S. involvement in a Middle East war,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff needed rapid intelligence on the ground situation
in Egypt. Above all, they wanted to know how many Soviet troops, if any,
were currently in Egypt and what kinds of weapons they had. Also, if
U.S. fighter planes were to enter the conflict, it was essential to pinpoint
the locations of surface-to-air missile batteries. If troops went in, it would
be vital to know the locations and strength of opposing forces.
Under the gun to provide answers, officials at NSA considered their
options. Land-based stations, like the one in Cyprus, were too far away
to collect the narrow line-of-sight signals used by air defense radar, fire
control radar, microwave communications, and other targets.
Airborne Sigint platforms”Air Force C-130s and Navy EC-121s”
could collect some of this. But after allowing for time to and from the


157
"orbit areas," the aircrews would only have about five hours on station”
too short a time for the sustained collection that was required. Adding
aircraft was also an option but finding extra signals intelligence planes
would be very difficult. Also, downtime and maintenance on those
aircraft was greater than for any other kind of platform.
Finally there were the ships, which was the best option. Because they
could sail relatively close, they could pick up the most important signals.
Also, unlike the aircraft, they could remain on station for weeks at a
time, eavesdropping, locating transmitters, and analyzing the
intelligence. At the time, the USS Oxford and Jamestown were in
Southeast Asia; the USS Georgetown and Belmont were eavesdropping off
South America; and the USNS Muller was monitoring signals off Cuba.
That left the USNS Valdez and the USS Liberty. The Valdez had just
completed a long mission and was near Gibraltar on its way back to the
United States. On the other hand, the Liberty, which was larger and
faster, had just begun a: new mission and was relatively close, in port in
Abidjan.
Several months before, seeing the swells forming, NSA's G Group had
drawn up a contingency plan. It would position the Liberty in the area of
"L0L0" (longitude 0, latitude 0) in Africa's Gulf of Guinea, concentrating
on targets in that area, but actually positioning her far enough north
that she could make a dash for the Middle East should the need arise.
Despite the advantages, not everyone agreed on the plan. Frank Raven,
the G Group chief, argued that it was too risky. "The ship will be
defenseless out there," he insisted. "If war breaks out, she'll be alone and
vulnerable. Either side might start shooting at her. ... I say the ship
should be left where it is." But he was overruled.
On May 23, having decided to send the Liberty to the Middle East, G
Group officials notified John Connell, NSA's man at the Joint
Reconnaissance Center. A unit within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the JRC
was responsible for coordinating air, sea, and undersea reconnaissance
operations. At 8:20 that spring evening, amid the noisy clatter of teletype
machines, a technician tapped out a brief Flash message to the Liberty:


MAKE IMMEDIATE PREPARATIONS TO GET UNDERWAY.
WHEN READY FOR SEA ASAP DEPART PORT ABIDJAN AND
PROCEED REST POSSIBLE SPEED TO ROTA SPAIN TO
LOAD TECHNICAL SUPPORT MATERIAL AND SUPPLIES.
WHEN READY FOR SEA PROCEED TO OPERATING AREA
OFF PORT SAID. SPECIFIC AREAS WILL FOLLOW.


In the coal-black Ivoirian night, an island of light lit up the end of the
long wooden pier where the USS Liberty lay docked. Beyond, in the


158
harbor, small dots of red and green blinked like Christmas-tree lights as
hulking cargo ships slowly twisted with the gentle tide.
It was around 3:45 A.M. when Lieutenant Jim O'Connor woke to a
knock on his stateroom door. The duty officer squinted as he read the
message in the red glow of an emergency light. Still half asleep, he
mumbled a curse and quickly threw on his trousers. "It was a message
from the Joint Chiefs of Staff," O'Connor recalled telling his cabinmate.
"Whoever heard of JCS taking direct control of a ship?" Within minutes
reveille sounded and the Liberty began to shudder to life. Less than three
hours later, the modern skyline of Abidjan disappeared over the stern as
the ship departed Africa for the last time. Silhouetted against the rising
sun was the large moon-bounce antenna on the rear deck, pointing
straight up as if praying.
For eight days, at top speed, the bow cut a silvery path through 3,000
miles of choppy Atlantic Ocean. The need for linguists was especially
critical on the Liberty, which, because of her West African targets, carried
only French and Portuguese language experts. Therefore, five Arabic
linguists”two enlisted Marines and three NSA civilians”were ordered to
Rota to rendezvous with the Liberty. Although the ship already had
numerous Russian linguists, it was also decided to add one more, a
senior analytical specialist.
NSA had originally wanted to also put Hebrew linguists on the ship,
but the agency just didn't have enough. "I mean, my God," said Frank
Raven, "you're manning a crisis; where are you going to get these
linguists from? You go out and ask the nearest synagogue? We got
together every linguist we could manage and we not only sent them to
Rota but then we have to back up every military station in the Middle
East”we're sending them into Athens, we're sending them into Turkey”
by God, if you can speak Arabic and you're in NSA you're on a plane!"
As the Liberty steamed northward, Marine Sergeant Bryce Lockwood
was strapped in a signals intelligence plane flying 30,000 feet above the
frigid Norwegian Sea off Iceland. Lockwood was an experienced signals
intelligence intercept operator and Russian linguist; he and his
crewmembers were shadowing the Russian Northern Fleet as it
conducted summer war games. But the ferret operation had been
plagued with problems. A number of the missions had been canceled as
a result of aircraft equipment failures and the one Lockwood was on
intercepted only about three minutes of Russian voice, which was so
garbled that no one could understand it.
During the operation, Lockwood was temporarily assigned to the U.S.
Navy air base at Keflavik, Iceland. But as the Russian exercise came to
an end, he headed back to his home base, the sprawling Navy listening
post at Bremerhaven, where he specialized in analyzing intercepted



159
Russian communications. The plane flew first to Rota, where he was to
catch another military flight back to Germany. However, because it was
the Memorial Day weekend, few U.S. military flights were taking off; he
was forced to spend the night. That afternoon Lockwood went to a picnic,
had a few beers, and then went to bed early in his quarters.
About 2:00 A.M. he was suddenly woken up by some loud pounding
on his door. Assuming it was just a few of his fellow Marines wanting to
party, he pulled the cover over his head and ignored it. But the banging
only got louder. Now angry, Lockwood finally threw open the door.
Standing in front of him in the dim light was a sailor from the duty office.
"I have a message with your name on it from the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he
said somewhat quizzically. "You're assigned to join the USS Liberty at
0600 hours. You better get up and pack your seabag." It was a highly
unusual order, a personal message from the JCS at two in the morning;
Lockwood had little time to ponder it.
It was just an hour or so after dawn on the first of June when the
Liberty slid alongside a pier in Rota. Already waiting for them were
Lockwood and the five Arabic linguists. A short time later, thick black
hoses, like boa constrictors, disgorged 380,000 gallons of fuel into the
ship's tanks while perspiring sailors in dungarees struggled to load
crates of vegetables and other food. Several technicians also retrieved
boxes of double-wrapped packages and brought them aboard. The
packages contained supersensitive signals intelligence data left for them
by the Valdez as she passed through Rota on the way back to Norfolk.
Included were critical details on Middle East communication patterns
picked up as the Valdez transited the area: "who was communicating on
what links”Teletype, telephone, microwave, you name it," said Raven.
As she steamed west across the Mediterranean to Rota, the Valdez
had also conducted "hearability studies" for NSA in order to help
determine the best places from which to eavesdrop. Off the eastern end
of Crete, the Valdez discovered what amounted to a "duct" in the air, a
sort of aural pipeline that led straight to the Middle East. "You can sit in
Crete and watch the Cairo television shows," said Raven. "If you're over
flat water, basically calm water, the communications are wonderful." He
decided to park the Liberty there.
But the Joint Chiefs of Staff had other ideas. In Rota, Commander
McGonagle received orders to deploy just off the coasts of Israel and
Egypt but not to approach closer than twelve and a half nautical miles to
Egypt or six and a half to Israel. Following some repairs to the
troublesome dish antenna, the Liberty cast off from Rota just after noon
on June 2.
Sailing at seventeen knots, its top speed, the Liberty overtook and
passed three Soviet ships during its transit of the Strait of Gibraltar.



160
From there it followed the North African coastline, keeping at least
thirteen miles from shore. Three days after departing Rota, on June 5, as
the Liberty was passing south of Sicily, Israel began its long-planned
strike against its neighbors and the Arab-Israeli war began.


On June 5, 1967, at 7:45 A.M. Sinai time (1:45 A.M. in Washington,
D.C.), Israel launched virtually its entire air force against Egyptian
airfields, destroying, within eighty minutes, the majority of Egypt's air
power. On the ground, tanks pushed out in three directions across the
Sinai toward the Suez Canal. Fighting was also initiated along the
Jordanian and Syrian borders. Simultaneously, Israeli officials put out
false reports to the press saying that Egypt had launched a major attack
against them and that they were defending themselves.
In Washington, June 4 had been a balmy Sunday. President
Johnson's national security adviser, Walt Rostow, even stayed home from
the office and turned off his bedroom light at 11:00 P.M. But he turned it
back on at 2:50 A.M. when the phone rang, a little over an hour after
Israel launched its attack. "We have an FBIS [Foreign Broadcast
Information Service] report that the UAR has launched an attack on
Israel," said a husky male voice from the White House Situation Room.
"Go to your intelligence sources and call me back," barked Rostow. Ten
minutes later, presumably after checking with NSA and other agencies,
the aide called back and confirmed the press story. "Okay, I'm coming
in," Rostow said, and then asked for a White House car to pick him up.
As the black Mercury quickly maneuvered through Washington's

<<

. 28
( 118 .)



>>